October is mental health awareness month. I felt it a perfect time to introduce you to one of the study guide characters as well as to share how receiving support for my mental and emotional health have been a blessing. Let me introduce you to Nancy. From all appearances, she’s a pleasant, driven and thoughtful woman. She’s the picture of grace and confidence, or so we believe. Nancy has been struggling with depression for some time but hasn’t found a safe place to discuss her challenges. When she does muster up the courage to speak, she’s ostracized by well-meaning members of the women’s Bible study. What courage she must have to want to admit her struggles, but what challenges await her admission?
I can identify with Nancy because I struggled with anxiety. It hasn’t been until recently that I have been able to put a name to my experience. I, too, feared what others might think about my transparency. As a leader, I feared others might view me as weak, incompetent, or too vulnerable for their liking. I, unlike Nancy, just found the courage to reach out to a safe place. It took a lot of friends who were committed to helping me to express when I wasn’t okay.
How was I able to begin the journey to overcoming anxiety? A good sister-friend identified my concerns. She didn’t offer me a series of scriptures to recite; she recommended therapy. At first, I was nervous to attempt this process of unpeeling the layers of pain, but with each step, I feel more whole. Therapy isn’t a bunch of mindless activities but gets to the root of our deepest issues. With the help of a licensed professional, we can convey what’s beyond the surface, and these professionals help us to identify our hurts without shame. Since going through therapy, I have the coping strategies not to get overwhelmed or overwound so easily. I am still a work in progress, but my sister friend’s courage to reach out led to my healing.
In the upcoming Beyond the Building Study Guide there is a reason I address mental illness. The church has been relatively quiet on adequately communicating with those with mental and emotional challenges. What we typically do is remain silent, trying to figure out what is wrong about a person. We might even be judgmental when a person is in a mental health crisis, especially if they have been known as a “strong person.” These added weights only complicate matters, and sadly, some leaders would rather keep an image of strength than begin the journey towards wholeness. Sad to say, it is our fault for making people feel like it isn’t okay to say when we are not okay.
I want leaders to know that therapy isn’t taboo. We do not have to fear not being strong enough to lead. In fact addressing our mental health needs is one of the most courageous things we can do. When we are healthy, and we have addressed our brokenness, we can heal and better serve others. Never be afraid to ask for help. Never be hesitant to extend a hand to someone in mental health crisis. At any point, we too could be a Nancy. Wouldn’t you want someone to show God’s love and encourage you to seek help?